Sunday, August 1, 2010

A 6-Acre Preserve Where Artists Roam

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A 6-Acre Preserve Where Artists Roam

ATTENTION Guests pass through Andrey Bartenev's "Sunpool" on Saturday at the annual Watermill benefit. More Photos » By GUY TREBAY Jay McInerney, second from right, a guest. More Photos » ARTISTS and their antics are central to the Hamptons mythos: car crashes, bonfires, wife swapping, boyfriend swapping, dune trysts and drunken carousing, all interrupted by spells of intense creativity under the area's fabled luminous skies. The artists are pretty well gone now, all but the wealthiest ones. Everybody knows that Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner couldn't find a quarter-share in a renovated chicken coop in a market where even a teardown in Sag Harbor — long since elevated from its lowly status as the poor relation of hamlets like East Hampton — is priced at $1.8 million. (Admittedly it's just a few doors down from Cindy Sherman's Greek Revival place on Madison Street, but still.) If the creative types, from William Merritt Chase to Willem de Kooning, who long enlivened culture on the East End are now more memory than active presence, there is at least one holdout for the anarchic spirit of creation. And on Saturday evening, over 600 paying guests gathered at the Watermill Center, the arts complex founded in 1992 by the director Robert Wilson in a former Western Union building hidden in the Water Mill woods, to celebrate those who make art — or anyway, to underwrite their room and board The theme of the 17th annual Watermill Center benefit was Paradiso, and once you filtered out the kitsch of performers dressed as snow monkeys, the smoking tiki torches and the dreadful weather, it was still possible to recall how much a paradise the Hamptons can seem. Scattered throughout the six-acre site on Saturday were 24 artworks created and installed for that night and that particular party, a fete that is unlike any other on the East End and possibly anyplace. Is the Watermill Center benefit the party of the season, as some claim? You would have to take that up with fans of the annual Parrish Art Museum benefit or the fund-raiser staged to help Guild Hall in East Hampton. Those events routinely draw out the moguls and the social gratin of the Hamptons, two groups that do not necessarily overlap. Only the Watermill Center pulls elements of the two worlds together, and then mashes them up with the area's population of seasonally nomadic celebrities (Alan Cumming, Miranda Richardson, Alec Baldwin, Emily Mortimer) along with a posse of the 70 artists from two dozen countries that took residence at the center this year. Artists made up the labor force for the event, behind the scenes, in the woods and in the trees. They had assistance, of course, from caterers, security goons, the perfumers providing scented leaves for the snow monkeys to distribute to guests and from Mr. Wilson's high-powered friends. Sharon Stone, for one, played host and auctioneer for an event that ultimately raised $1.4 million. Briefly, at the start of the evening, the blond star was spotted making her way through a grove at the center, where the tree trunks had been covered from roots to chest height in aluminum foil. Dappled light filtering through the leaf canopy reflected off the surfaces and cast an odd glow reminiscent of Grade Z movies. It may not be the lighting Ms. Stone is accustomed to, but even without it she was a paragon of ... well, whatever it is that keeps age at bay. (She is 52.) Her fellow guests teetering along bark-covered paths past weird artworks in their stilettos also called to mind elements of old flicks, specifically those featuring intergalactic molls who always seemed overdressed for trips to Mars. Tiffany Dubin, for instance, the vintage clothing expert and director of business development for Heritage Galleries, wore a cocktail sheath and belt with a jeweled eyeball buckle that was highly reminiscent of the getup Zsa Zsa Gabor favored for her career-defining role as the cruel Venusian scientist in "Queen of Outer Space." "Here comes Tiffany Dubin, wood nymph," Bob Morris, the memoirist, remarked brightly, as Ms. Dubin moved toward and then past him, heading in the direction of an oversize box inside of which a man on a stool sat looking bored while a woman peeled an apple and two other men, naked but for tangled wigs, writhed on the floor: Adam and Eve meet Eiko & Koma. The woods were literally alive with artists — crawling through the leaf litter, twined in webs in the crotch of a tree (note to self: call exterminator about tent moths), hanging in nets curled in fetal balls. Apparitions wafted past, like the lunar beauty Marisa Berenson, who meandered through the living installations arm-in-arm with Starlite Randall, her daughter from an early marriage to a rivet king.. Passing the autistic artist and poet Christopher Knowles in a clearing, where he hugged a stele and intoned what sounded like gibberish, Ms. Berenson cocked her pretty head and looked bemused. "What's he on?" she said. He was not on anything. He was part of an artwork. This particular one was staged by Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, a Watermill Center artist who was a man once and a member of the industrial rock band Throbbing Gristle and is now a self-styled "pandrogynous" being, given to making oracular statements like "There is no gender anymore." If the wood was full of nymphs and gender-various beings, the gravel plaza where drinks were served was packed with sweaty angels. Some, like Joy Marks, had taken the cue to dress in "heavenly" fashion as an excuse to slip on some wings. But Ms. Marks's wings were wilting in the infernal heat, and all around her people with clothes stuck to their torsos and mascara running down their cheeks struggled to look cool. Only Calvin Klein, accompanied by a person who could have been his grandson, seemed impervious to the atmospherics. No drop of moisture beaded his taut brow....

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